A woman’s world

The Cappuccino Chronicles
By Pashmina
P Hasmark
249pp
Available at Amazon.

The payoff of my having spent years as a backpacker and visiting over 50 countries is that I remember them all, some more vividly than others. That gives me an advantage when reviewing the books and movies set in one or more of them, over those who remained at home. Yes, I know that area. No, it’s just a set or a bit of poetic license.

Not that there’s anything wrong with imagination. It’s expected of authors and scriptwriters. For me, the US: check. The UK: check. Continental Europe: check. India: check. Hong Kong: check, etc. Sites. Peoples. Experiences. Teaching English journalism. A family.

Reading The Cappuccino Chronicles by Pashmina P., my first reaction was been there, done that. My second reaction was been there, didn’t do that. It’s a story about women by a woman. Sitting in their favourite Lebanese coffee shop in London, the siblings and best friends find that happiness, fame and fortune are to be found abroad.

Indian backgrounds are their greatest obstacle. Two sisters in San Francisco stifled by the traditional ways of their tyrannical wife-beating father. American and Indian culture are incompatible. The family splits up.

Another lass hooks an oil prince. Apart from sex, he tunes her out. Throwing money at her, he couldn’t care less about what she thinks. She takes up the pen, eats exotic foods until she becomes obese. The women do a lot of giggling, sobbing, giving one another advice on the internet. Nothing spiritual or profound.

One becomes a successful fashion designer in Hong Kong. Years pass. She wants to leave. Her boyfriend doesn’t. Mum calls. How about India? The males are two-dimensional. An invalid (a wimp). A Caribbean musician is the only pleasant guy in the book, but marrying a black man isn’t done.

One of the women dies of cancer. With her eulogy and a wedding, the plot winds down. The Indian novels I’ve read to date have been much too long. At under 300 pages, this book says all it has to say without padding. She lacks the finesse of a first-class writer like Danielle Steel, who has cornered the market in girls growing up, yet she keeps you turning the page. She would do well to give men some credit.

Black Earth
by Timothy Snyder Vintage
462pp
Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops,
425 baht

Tale of two butchers

‘This would be a perfect world if human beings didn’t spoil it,” Katharine Hepburn said in a play, getting a chuckle from her audience. I wonder if it occurred to her that tyrants throughout history said the same thing and meant it, at least to an extent.

Animals are culled. Why not people? For the greater good. “Our race is superior. The others are just taking up space, rightfully ours.” So they proceeded to commit genocide. The Indians of the Americas — historians vary to their number — sought to protect the land. How selfish. Away with them.

Wars of religion — “My god is better than your god” — went on for centuries, indeed millennia. Japan incinerated its Catholics. England and Spain expelled Jews. Where permitted to remain the Jews were degraded, yet were better educated, and often more talented. Several achieved high positions.

In Germany, why did Hitler make them his bĂȘte noire? Perhaps because they turned him down when he applied to the Vienna Art Academy. Or that those in power signed the Versailles Peace Treaty, which blamed his country for starting World War I.

In his extensive research, Yale history professor Timothy Snyder concludes that Hitler believed that “his people”, Aryans, were the master race and that the others, such as the Slavs, not least the Jews, contaminated the purity of the Germans. The Holocaust was the inevitable result.

In Black Earth, the most recent of his history books on the subject, he goes further. That Stalin, if not for the same reasons, was at least as much of a butcher. The Generalissimo murdered tens of millions of Russians, Poles and Ukrainians. Professor Snyder gives details.

In their pact to divide Poland between them, the SS played second-fiddle to the NKVD. When Nazi Germany invaded the USSR, more than a few Russians welcomed them as saviours. Russia discriminated against its Jews, but didn’t massacre them. Still, Soviet partisans didn’t welcome them.

The author despairs that in this day and age there are rabid anti-Semites who want to resume the Holocaust where the Third Reich left off. When will they realise that genocide doesn’t cleanse the planet? For those hooked on World War II, Black Earth is for you.